Immigration divide widens with latest GOP proposal

Immigration divide widens with latest GOP proposal

Originally Published in The Hill.



Immigration divide widens with latest GOP proposal

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Lawmakers face a herculean task in trying to reach a comprehensive immigration deal to end the partial government shutdown.

Activists on both sides intensely dislike parts of President Trump's weekend proposal, and are pressuring members of Congress from the left and the right to oppose it.

Battle lines are already hardened after the 33-days-and-counting closure, which has featured an unusual number of dust-ups between President Trump and Democratic leaders, leading to the apparent suspension of the traditional State of the Union address in the House chamber initially scheduled for Jan. 29.

And the latest Republican legislative proposal to resolve the impasse only inflamed tensions further.

"What he's inserting is deeply flawed, extremely restrictive and absolutely not a real concession in any way, shape or form," Rep. Pramila Jayapal(Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a top Democratic voice on immigration, said in an interview Tuesday night.

The GOP proposal, introduced in the Senate on Monday, intends to serve as the legislative follow-up to statements by Trump and Vice President Pence over the weekend that essentially promised three-year extensions of protections for immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.

But the bill, which exceeds 1,300 pages, goes beyond a simple benefits-for-wall trade.

"The Senate bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced to implement his deal does not extend DACA but rather replaces it with a totally different program that will exclude untold thousands of Dreamers who would have been eligible under DACA," wrote David Bier, an immigration analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, on Tuesday.

Activists on the left also panned the package, which includes several provisions long-favored by immigration hardliners, such as overhauling the asylum process.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, scoffed at the plan.

"Here's the problem with the president and [senior White House adviser] Stephen Miller and the Republican leadership here in the House and in the Senate: They have no credibility on this issue,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in a Tuesday night interview. “They have been consistent about enforcement only, consistent about outdoing existing norms that exist in immigration, and in doing so, they've never wavered from that.”

The GOP plan got mixed reviews from groups looking to reduce immigration, many of whom see extending benefits to undocumented immigrants as a red line.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), wrote that the president's offer to extend TPS and DACA temporarily is an acceptable concession.

"Both programs should be abolished, of course, but enabling already-amnestied illegals to keep their work permits a little longer as a sweetener for Democrats isn’t unreasonable, despite the objections of many of my fellow immigration hawks," he wrote in the National Review on Wednesday.

The bill has slim chances of making it through the GOP-controlled Senate and virtually no chance of consideration in the House, where Democrats are now in the majority.

"What's on paper is a lot harsher than even what the president described," Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday. "It looks like they purposely stuck a bunch of poison pills in there knowing it would be very unattractive, not just to Democrats, but some Republicans.”

Many lawmakers with experience negotiating comprehensive immigration packages say it doesn't make sense to add an issue that's divided Congress for decades to an already-fraught debate over the government shutdown.

"We should've done it during [President] Obama's first term but we didn't, because that administration didn't want to do it,” Grijalva said. “Now we have a situation where they've been in the majority for eight years -- more, a decade -- and nothing's ever come to the floor on that here.”

"It's a combination of factors, and I don't think the wall is such a motivator that it's going to get some of the more hard-right people here to ever really want to come along," he added.

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a veteran of several House negotiations on immigration reform, doesn't share Grijalva’s views.

The Florida Republican introduced legislation dubbed the Dream Act of 2019 that would extend immigration benefits to DACA recipients and other Dreamers -- immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors -- and TPS holders, in exchange for border security funding.

"In order to move forward in the legislative process, everybody has to have a bit of a win, and everybody's gotta give something. That's how you move forward," said Díaz-Balart on Tuesday evening. "They are issues everybody understands because they've been around for so long, and that everybody can then get a real victory.”

The Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration in 2006 and 2013, but the measures were blocked from consideration in the House. At both times, the lower chamber was under GOP control.

Democrats say they are open to negotiations with Republican moderates like Díaz-Balart, but warn that a simple wall-for-Dreamers trade is unlikely.

"People like Mario Diaz, those are folks who are straight shooters, who've been looking at this for a while," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a staunch opponent of Trump's proposed wall, on Tuesday night.

"I think we can negotiate, but still a lot of us are saying, ‘Don't think you're going to give us the Dreamers and then we'll be OK on the wall. Fundamentally, we have a problem with the wall," added Cuellar.

Recent immigration policy negotiations, like over the past summer, have spiraled out of control, as immigration doves tried to protect a larger undocumented population and hawks tried to insert more enforcement and restrictions.

And the right flank of the Republican House Conference is reluctant to engage in talks that could anger their base or be interpreted as a permanent amnesty.

One crucial difference between the president's proposal and Democratic requirements is the permanence of benefits for Dreamers.

A temporary benefit is untenable, the left argues, because it would only extend uncertainty. Their opponents argue that permanent residency for any number of Dreamers would necessitate significant changes to immigration enforcement measures.

"Upgrading the DACA recipients from their current amnesty-lite to amnesty-premium would require the inclusion of measures to limit the fallout of such a move,” wrote Krikorian. “They would have to include additional steps to address the illegal immigration a new amnesty like that would attract, such as mandating E-Verify, as well as legal-immigration reductions intended both to offset the amnesty numerically and to limit the immigration benefits that the relatives of the DACA recipients could receive from their new status."

But the bigger divide is that neither side trusts the other to make good on its promises, with Democrats saying they are particularly wary of Trump.

"I have zero faith that he actually has any interest in trying to resolve the immigration issue in a way that is humane, real and protects our country's future for all Americans," said Jayapal.


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